University of Maryland Medical Center’s Critical Role in the Pivotal Study for Focused Ultrasound

Although hand tremors are most commonly associated with Parkinson’s, another tremor is eight times as common: essential tremor. This action tremor can affect anyone, although it’s most often seen in people over 60. Despite a large number of people affected by essential tremor, it has not gained as much research as other types of tremors. Now, things are starting to change. Today, the Essential Tremor Education Center would like to look back at the early phases of a new essential tremor treatment: MR-guided focused ultrasound.

Up until recently, the main treatment options for essential tremor included medication or surgery. While they offered some relief to many patients, others were unresponsive to these treatments. In 2015, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) became one of eight sites involved in a clinical trial to treat essential tremor—without invasive surgery. UMMC’s team, led by Dr. Eisenburg, performed a preliminary trial of MR-guided focused ultrasound with 11 patients.

This new technique aimed to diminish tremor without the use of medication or surgery. During the procedure, MRI was used to locate the affected area of a patient’s brain that was causing the tremor. Then, focused ultrasound waves were used to lesion the area. Unlike invasive surgery, focused ultrasound techniques are less likely to lead to complications such as brain hemorrhage or infection.

The preliminary results were positive—many patients enjoyed a decreased tremor after treatment. The symptoms were evaluated periodically after treatment; some patients were monitored for a year, while others are being followed for five years after their treatment. Dr. Eisenburg’s hope is that patients will enjoy life with a diminished tremor for many years after the procedure.

The success of these trials has led to MR-guided focused ultrasound treatment being approved by the FDA. Treatments are being performed more widely since the initial trials, with many patients still enjoying their results. The Essential Tremor Education Center is interested to see how this new essential tremor treatment may continue to benefit more patients in the future. If you’d like to learn more about this treatment, or other treatment options for tremors, please call our educators at 844-NO-TREMOR to see what options may be available, or take our End My Tremor Now quiz to determine potential treatment paths.